The US national security adviser met Afghan President Hamid Karzai Monday in Kabul, while the Pentagon urged the leader to change his mind and sign a security pact that would allow thousands of American troops to stay in the country beyond a 2014 withdrawal deadline.
Karzai's decision to ignore Sunday's recommendation to sign by an Afghan assembly of dignitaries has cast doubt on the future presence of thousands of American and allied troops with the main mandate of training and mentoring Afghan soldiers and police to face a persistent Taliban insurgency.
The two-term Afghan leader insisted that the winner of an April 5 election to succeed him should be the one to sign the deal. But the US administration says insists the deal must be finalized by the end of this year to give enough time for planning to keep the troops in the country. More than $8 billion in annual funds for Afghanistan fledgling security forces and development assistance also is at stake.
Col. Steven Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington that it's very difficult for the US to plan troop movements if the deal is not sealed by year's end.
The Pentagon hopes Karzai will sign the agreement "as quickly as possible," he said.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with Karzai at the end of a previously unannounced three-day trip to Afghanistan to visit US troops and civilians for the Thanksgiving holidays, the White House said, adding that the meeting was at Karzai's request. Her spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said the meeting was the last stop on her trip.
The US Embassy said the meeting was held in the heavily fortified presidential palace in downtown Kabul, but it gave no further details. Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Karzai rebuffed the American demands Sunday at the end of a four-day meeting of 2,500 tribal elders and regional leaders known as a Loya Jirga, which not only overwhelmingly approved the deal but urged him to sign it by Dec. 31.
Karzai, who had convened the assembly, complicated the debate by announcing on the opening day that he wanted delegates to endorse the deal but he would not sign it.
He repeated that stance Sunday laying down a series of ill-defined conditions and promising to continue negotiations with the United States. They included demands that America ensure peace in a country that has been at war for more than 12 years and guarantee transparent elections.
Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from running in the upcoming presidential vote, also accused the United States of meddling in the 2009 elections, which were marred by fraud, and said he wanted to keep that from happening again.
Even if the mercurial president changes his mind and signs the document, it still must be approved by the Afghan parliament, then finally signed into law by Karzai.
"The critical next step must be to get the bilateral security agreement signed in short order, and put into motion an agreement which will lay a firm foundation for our two countries to continue working together toward a more secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan," US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday in a statement.